January projects

Our January has seemed slower in pace than many of the previous months.  I think this is partly because the holidays are done, and partly because huge quantities of snow have kept us home more than usual.  For those of you lucky enough NOT to live around here, we’ve had 35.5 inches this winter, which breaks every record EVER since they started recording snowfall in our area.  It’s been staggering.  Kids in our area have already had a week or more of snow days,  which (judging by my facebook feed) has been very disconcerting to teachers and folks used to sending kids off to school every weekday.

Front yard snow fort

For us it hasn’t been so odd; we’ve homeschooled for a long, long time.  No snow days for us!  We have, however, had a few delayed starts and long lunch breaks helping dad shovel the driveway.  They even made an epic snow fort in the front yard after that first big snowstorm. Since then we’ve kinda gotten tired of the snow, and now it just sits there in our yard in grey sodden humps.

But back to homeschooling:  many other things in our home have changed in the past couple years.  We’ve moved to a new house.  We’ve had 4 kids move out.  We’ve spent lots of time at the coast checking out the house build.  The girls are adjusting to me working a day or two a week.  It’s been a lot.   But homeschooling has remained a constant, and I think we all really appreciate that.

I love being able to start each day slowly– no rushing off to school.   I love spending most days with the girls as they work through their school.  We have time to chat and time to read and play games, and to just to do nothing.  I read some interesting articles about homeschooling this week, and will share them in links at the bottom of this post in case you are interested in reading them as well.

One fun project that I did during January was paint a cute little night stand.  Over the years it has served a lot of different purposes in different rooms of our home, but I got tired of the orange-yellow finish and decided to give it a fresh paint job.  I was given some milk paint from The Real Milk Paint Company to try out, so I decided to use the oyster grey on this little nightstand. This paint is interesting because it comes in a powder form, which you then combine with water to create a thin paint that is non-toxic and dries quickly.

I very lightly sanded the most distressed parts of the old finish, leaving most of the finish untouched.  This came back to bite me when the paint dried.  Wherever I hadn’t sanded, the paint crackled and came off in chunks, which meant I had to go back, sand again, and then repaint those areas again. (Might have helped if I’d read the directions!!  Eeek!) Unlike my chalk paint project, sanding before using Real Milk Paint is really important, as is mixing the paint to be very thin.  Kind of a hassle to discover all that after the first coat–my momma always warned me that reading directions was a good idea!!– but I learned my lesson and the finished product was very nice.

I opted not to use the old wooden knobs, replacing them with a couple of black ones that I had left over from my bathroom cabinet staining project a couple years back.  I think the fresh paint gave this sweet little shelf a whole new look.  I’m so pleased with it.  I am thinking of painting the legs black for a bit more contrast.  What do you think?

Fresh paint!

January saw another paint project also. The girls have been wanting to paint their room for awhile, and a week or so ago they got that done– in 24 hours flat, AND all on their own.  It was quite amazing to wake up after having worked all night, and see it completely done.

They chose the paint simply because they loved the color.  I had it in my mind that updated bedspreads might be necessary to tie the room all together.  But they ended up harmonizing just beautifully.  I especially like the contrast between their black bed frames and the blue wall.  The paint also really makes the white trim pop.  Love it.  And now that I know they’re such good painters, I may just assign them other rooms in the house.

In other news, the beach house build has been coming right along!  You can see more details here.  We are hoping to get our occupancy permit in February, at which time we will begin moving in furniture!!  I’ve been scouring thrift stores and clearance racks for odds and ends of useful things to help make things pretty and comfortable.

We have a couple of couches coming soon, and we already have about half the beds, as well as dishes, dining room furnishings, tables, towels and sheets, etc.  I took advantage of some really great Black Friday sales at Macy’s and got about half a dozen small appliances for the princely sum of $8.99 each.

One fun little-known fact: you can go to overstock.com and type in ‘as is’, and lots and lots of really great sale items pop up that won’t otherwise show up in your search.  Doing this, I’ve found all sorts of things on great clearances on different household items, including shades, rugs, curtains, sheets, and even furniture.

We’re excited to go see the house again in a few days, and I’ll doubtless be putting up more pictures after that trip.  We also listed the house on a rental site this month, so if you are thinking you’d like to try it out this summer, I’d advise you to go check it out and save your dates.  Even though the home has yet to be complete, we’ve already gotten a few bookings, so dates might go fast, especially once we have it furnished.  This has been a dream for so many years that it is pinch-myself surreal to see the house so close to completion.  I love, love, love the idea of families (ours and others) building happy memories together there, and maybe even returning year after year.  Such a lovely thought….

Thanks for continuing to read even though I have not been posting tons lately!  I think of writing here lots more often than I actually find time to do it.  I’m guessing once the house is done, I will find a bit more time.  Would love to hear how your January is going!  And just in case you’re interested, here are those homeschooling links I mentioned earlier.

College Professors Weigh In

Dreading the Teen Years?

An Alternative to Charter Schools?

Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families (my book)


Six Essentials in the Homeschool Day

If you’re feeling like you don’t get enough done in the average homeschool day, join the club! I have great news for you, though. It is possible to get a kid well prepared for adulthood if your homeschool day includes only six things. Here they are:

1. Time in the word. We fit this in at breakfast.  We take turns reading a bit of scripture while everyone eats.  It is  our hope and our help every day, and ideally guides all our interactions, especially in hard moments. Are we serving Jesus, or ourselves, with each decision?

6 Essentials in the Homeschool Day

6 Essentials in the Homeschool Day

2. Reading. This is the core of academic learning. If you have a child who spends time reading, you have a learner. Make sure there are plenty of good books in the home. I also like to alternate books of the child’s choice and books that I choose, to broaden the child’s reading horizons.  I often choose books that will teach a child a bit about a particular time in history– that way I’m covering reading and history.

3. Math. If you get a bit of math done each day, you are setting your child up for success with future learning. You don’t have to do tons each day. Just some.

4. Writing. In younger grades this can look like spelling or handwriting. In older grades you can assign creative writing, or essays on specific topics. Get kids comfortable with putting words on a page and you are setting him up to win at a huge variety of future careers.  Here’s a post I wrote about teaching essay writing.

5. Time to pursue a passion. Some kids might want to become fluent in Spanish. Others might be artists. Still others might be interested in creating a speaker for an Mp3 player or learning a new judo move. Not every child will discover a passion easily, but giving them space to investigate, to learn, or create will help them along that path.  (I think that limiting video games and screen time is a component of this as well, since it gives kids space to get bored enough to explore….)

6. Service. Some time each day should be spent doing something that benefits the family. In our house that’s usually something mundane like laundry or dishes or vacuuming. Maybe it doesn’t sound academic, but it’s teaching kids work ethic and skills for the future, and that’s every bit as important as math.

Are you able to fit those 6 things into your school day on a regular basis? Then you’re doing great!   Eventually as kids move into the teen years, you’ll need to make subjects like science and history happen more often, but even then you  can mix it up.  For example, cover physical science one semester and world history another.  Or do science a couple days a week all year long.  But don’t feel bad if your fallback position on crazy days is those basic six things.  Your kids are still learning!

For more real-world homeschooling advice, check out my latest book, Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families.


Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families

Practical HomeschoolingHooray! Finally, after years of living only in my head, my very first e-book is complete and officially releases on Monday. It’s called Practical Homeschooling for Real-World Families and is chock full of my best tips for doable homeschooling (translate: ideas that won’t make mom nutty trying to do them).

I think every mom benefits when she has at least a little time for things she enjoys doing.  But to find that time, we need to work smart at homeschooling–otherwise it can very easily take up the whole day.  And that’s not good for parents or kids.

It can be tricky to find the right balance– the place where you’re getting enough school done to keep everyone moving forward, but not so obsessed with homeschool perfection that nobody’s happy.  A huge goal of this book is to help you find that happy place for your family.

What’s in the book?

In Practical Homeschooling, I’ll talk you through selecting curriculum that works for you and share my favorites, including lots of ideas that don’t cost a penny. You’ll learn about homeschooling short-cuts, games for little ones, tips for teaching essay-writing, ways to encourage resistant learners, and even how to create a high school transcript.  And along the way, you’ll hear more of my family’s homeschooling story.

What if my kids are in school?

This book also contains tips useful for non-homeschooling families.  There are homework helps, ideas for choosing books to suit your kids’ reading level, and lots of tips easily applicable to summer enrichment.

Here’s the link for pre-ordering.  Order between now and Monday, and you’ll get a special sale price.  So grab it now!

Share, please?

Will you take a moment and click the buttons below to share this post on facebook  or  on Pinterest ? Thanks so much for any help you can give me getting the word out!

P.S.– Here’s a special deal just for my readers. 

Order this week and share about it on social media, and I will send you a sample transcript — just like the one I’ve prepared for my five kids who’ve already graduated.  You can fill it in (and modify it) to use for your own children during the high school years.  To get the freebie, email me at mary.owlhaven@gmail.com, put transcript in the subject line, and tell me where you shared about the book.  I will get that sample headed your way!



Homeschooling with preschoolers

Homeschooling older children with little ones in the house can be a real challenge. Toddlers and preschoolers are energetic, inquisitive, and mobile. They make things happen. Woe to you if you’re not watching them while they’re making things happen. But how can you occupy them in a way that will still allow you to also teach older ones?

One of the things that has helped me over the years is an idea adapted from Montessori preschools. “Play stations” are independent activities set up in designated spaces on the floor. Children stay with one activity for 5 to 10 minutes. When a timer rings, they rotate to another station. Good activities include: dollhouse and people, Cheerios to string, blocks, stacking cups, Legos, simple puzzles, and stories on tapes.

Play stations require a little bit of training. At first you may want to be flexible with the time. With young toddlers, you’ll want to keep the time short– maybe 2-3 rotations of 5 minutes each once a day. Or you can let your child do an activity for as long as it holds his interest, and then pull out the next thing.


As kids settle in and their attention span increases, you can gradually increase the number of rotations, and the amount of time at each activity. If play is going really well, I’ll sometimes just turn the timer off rather than interrupt the child when he is really engrossed in an activity.

Vary activities often to suit your child’s interests. To keep several kids occupied at once, 4-6 activities are adequate. Set up stations a few feet apart to avoid squabbles. The time it takes to set up play stations will be rewarded by the sight of your little ones learning to play happily— and independently — near you.





1.) Indoor ‘sandbox’: Put uncooked rice into a large bowl on a bed sheet on the floor. Add cups, funnels, and spoons. Afterward your child can help clean up with a small broom and dustpan.

2.) Toy Dump: Suspend a plastic bucket from the ceiling about a foot off the floor. Put a plastic dishpan under it full of small toys. Toddlers fill the bucket and dump it back into the dishpan.

3.) Ball Toss: Use a bucket and aluminum foil balls, and make a masking tape ‘free-throw’ line to stand behind.

4.) Sewing Cards: Glue a picture to cardboard, then outline the picture with a hole punch. Your child ‘sews’ the picture using a long shoelace.

More homeschooling posts

Homeschooling: how we began

Homeschooling: why we stuck with it
Holy Experience: Pros and cons of homeschooling
Raising Five: Shelter is not a place

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